As I’ve traveled the world this year, I’ve been reading voraciously. Before I visit a country I try to read about its history—its key events, its key victories and failures, its key personalities. I’ve read complete histories of a number of the world’s great nations, as well a number of its lesser ones. As I’ve done this, I’ve noticed a major difference in the way history is told by Christians and in the way it’s told by non-Christians. As our culture has more and more rejected the notion of the providence of God, and indeed the very existence of God, history is being told in a way that is distinctly godless.
As a Christian, my interpretive grid is to look for the hand of God in guiding nations. All of the Christian histories I’ve read promote the understanding that God is behind the rise and fall of the nations. Historians, seeking to talk about the exceptional qualities of a nation and its people, emphasize the providence of God in that nation’s history. In this way, history truly is his-story. It is seeking to tell the story of what God means to accomplish in the world that he has made (A great example of this is Nick Needham’s tremendous four volume history titled appropriately 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power).
But as I read the works of non-Christians, I have seen that their interpretive grid is completely different. Because they will not acknowledge the existence of God, they cannot acknowledge the purpose of God. Because they will not acknowledge God as creator, they will not acknowledge God as storyteller—the one who is telling the story of his glory in the world. Instead, they tell what is essentially a history of nothing, no one, and nowhere.
The Bible recounts primordial history and wastes absolutely no time in introducing us to a person and his purpose: “In the beginning God created…” In just the first few words we learn history has a beginning, and history has a beginner. Behind the very first molecules in existence was the creative power and deliberate providence of an almighty God. Over six days we see him creating, shaping, and sustaining all that he has made. We see him forming the crown of his creation, his pride and joy, a human being, to whom he assigned a noble purpose. Christian historians follow this pattern in seeing the deliberate act of God behind every person, every nation, and every action.
My next trip is taking me to Scotland and to prepare, I’ve been reading histories of that nation. If ever there has been a nation that has consistently punched above its weight in history secular or religious, it’s Scotland. In so many ways, Scotland has had a key role in creating the modern world and the modern church. I don’t find it difficult to see the providence of God in the history of that nation. Yet contemporary historians seem intent on placing such exceptionalism in a context of naturalism. They trace the history of the world, and therefore the history of the nation, in a context of time and chance. Scotland’s greatness has to be attributed to nothing more than a big bang, billions of years, random chance, and natural selection. The history of Scotland is a history of nothing, no one, and nowhere.
Earlier this year I spent a week in Hawaii and in our lodging found a book on the history of those islands. I cracked it open and began to read and was surprised—though I should not have been—to find the first 50 pages dedicated to a God-free explanation of the island’s forming and the evolution of all life on it. This historian too, wanted to make it clear, that the history of Hawaii is a history of nothing, no one, and nowhere. The same is true of the history of New Zealand. It, too, apparently is a nation that just happened into existence and whose people are nothing more than the lucky product of time and chance.
We can perhaps learn from the Apostle Paul as he spoke to the wise men of Athens. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” (Acts 17:24-27). According to the Bible, it is God who created the world and God who determines the course of this world. Thus, a right view of history is one that acknowledges his existence and displays how he is glorifying himself through this world and through all the affairs of men. It’s not a history of nothing, no one, and nowhere, but a history of the works, the acts, and the glory of God.